EMU hires Stan Heath as men's basketball coach; ex-boss Tom Izzo calls it 'terrific hire'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Stan Heath is back home, and back in the driver's seat.

Heath, a Michigan native and former head coach at Kent State, Arkansas and South Florida, was named head men's basketball coach at Eastern Michigan, his alma mater, on Monday.

The hiring concludes a nearly month-long coaching search. Heath will sign a five-year contract, athletic director Scott Wetherbee said. Financial terms still are being finalized, and are expected to be made available later this week.

Stan Heath played at Eastern Michigan from 1985-87.

"I'm thrilled to return to my alma mater," Heath said in a statement. "I appreciate the opportunity that has been given to me by president (James) Smith and our athletic director Scott Wetherbee to lead this program. Eastern Michigan is a special place for me and my family. I look forward to working with our student-athletes and implementing a style and systems that excite our students, community and alumni. Our goal is to win Mid-American Conference championships and be a perennial NCAA team."

Heath, 56, spent the past four seasons coaching the Lakeland Magic in the NBA’s G League and guided the franchise to its first championship this past season.

Before that, Heath spent nearly three decades as a college coach, including 13 years as a head coach at Kent State, Arkansas and South Florida. He reached the NCAA Tournament four times, at least once at each stop and twice at Arkansas. He was named coach of the year in the Mid-American Conference in 2002, when he led Kent State to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. In his one season at Kent State, the program set a record with 30 wins. He was named coach of the year in the Big East in 2012, after leading South Florida to the NCAAs.

Heath owns a career college coaching record of 209-206.

His career also includes stints as an assistant at Hillsdale, Albion, Wayne State, Bowling Green, Michigan State and Boston College. He began his coaching career with a year at Ypsilanti High School.

At Michigan State, from 1996-2001, he was one of head coach Tom Izzo's first staff hires.

"Stan was one of the first and best hires I made when I became the head coach at Michigan State and he was an assistant on our national championship team and went to three straight Final Fours. He was a big part of helping to build our program to what it is today," Izzo said in a statement, released by Eastern Michigan. "Stan is a tremendous coach, has had success everywhere he's been.

We're running a new-subscriber special. Support local journalism, and subscribe here.

"I'm very happy for Stan getting the opportunity to return not only to his home state, but to his alma mater as the head coach and I think Eastern Michigan has made a terrific hire."

Heath starred at Detroit Catholic Central High School, as an all-state guard, before moving on to Eastern Michigan. At EMU he earned letters in three years, 1985-87, after redshirting his first year.

A 6-foot-1 backup point guard in college, he played under coach Ben Braun, who led Eastern Michigan to three NCAA Tournament appearances, starting the year after Heath graduated.

"I have known Stan since his high school playing days at Catholic Central and his time as former EMU player on our team," Braun, who went on to coach at Cal and then Rice, said in a statement. "His strong character and moral values have been congruent with his success as a coach.

"I'm pleased he will have the opportunity to lead his alma mater as the new basketball coach. He certainly will have my full support."

Heath holds a bachelor's degree in social science from Eastern Michigan and a master's in sports administration from Wayne State. While coaching at Wayne State, the basketball team made the Division II Final Four.

At Eastern Michigan, he replaces Rob Murphy, whose contract expired this year and wasn't renewed after his 10th season as head coach. While Heath moves from the G League, Murphy moves to the G League, as president and general manager of the Detroit Pistons' new franchise, the Motor City Cruise.

Heath was this past season's G League coach of the year, with G League Finals MVP Devin Cannady, a former Princeton star, crediting Heath "for playing a key part in my development."

"We are so thrilled to welcome back Stan Heath as our new head men's basketball coach," Wetherbee said in a statement. "One of the key messages I heard throughout the search process was the desire to find someone with Eastern Michigan connections as well as someone with a strong head coaching pedigree. In hiring Coach Heath, we absolutely have that person.

"He is a proven winner in both the collegiate and professional ranks, and his focus on positively impacting the lives of our student-athlete is infectious. We cannot wait to have him and his family back on campus and reintroducing them to the Eastern Michigan family."

Heath, married with two sons, will be introduced at an on-campus press conference Tuesday.

Central Michigan continues searching for its next head men's basketball coach, after Keno Davis was fired following his ninth season.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984